Golden Gate

Review by Orb
February 2002

Golden Gate is an old-fashioned, point-and-click, slide-show style adventure. But before you write it off as just another Myst clone, take a good look. Golden Gate is a very simple, albeit classy, game that has aged well, and it has a style that is not seen in other adventure games. For this fact alone, it's worth playing.

Golden Gate contains the usual suspects as far as story goes. The player is on a lonely hunt to discover an ancient treasure that has been sequestered away somewhere in the city of San Francisco. As the city is explored and searched, the player uncovers pieces of the story of a treasure that is keeping a demon beast from surfacing, as well as the people who have owned and interacted with the treasure and beast down through hundreds of years' time.

As the game progresses and sections are solved, the player is treated to scenes from the stories of the lives the treasure has affected. All of these are done very competently, the acting is acceptable and not over- or underdone, and the stories themselves are entertaining. Because these clips are pretty brief, the remainder of these stories are meted out in a variety of found pages or books that turn up as the game progresses. Because of this, there is a bit of reading required during the game to fully understand all the aspects of the story.

But the great thing that sets Golden Gate apart is not the run-of-the-mill story. It is the fact that it is set in San Francisco. And this is not an idealized artist's rendering of what the city might or should look like. Instead, the designers ingeniously took actual locations of the City by the Bay and layered beautiful watercolor paintings over the top of the photos. For anyone familiar with the city, the locations will be instantly identifiable, from the Peking Duck in a Chinatown shop window to the curves of Lombard Street. Those who are not acquainted with San Francisco will get a wonderful, picturesque view of it and a clear idea of the city's rich culture. What the watercoloring adds is a dreamy otherworldliness that is at once striking and draws the player in.

The look of the game is not the only highlight, however. The game has some very well-planned design choices that actually make it timeless and fun. The cursor, in the shape of a hollow navigation symbol, reacts clearly to hot spots, shows possible directional movements, and changes to guide gameplay in a way all games should emulate.

The game also has a main map feature that allows the player quick access to previously visited locations and an unheard-of secondary map feature that allows the player to jump to a chosen location on Angel Island, which is a fairly expansive area in the game. This keeps the story moving and the fun up and reduces the sensation of trudging back and forth in gameplay areas in a redundantly boring manner. The game is also wide open from the get-go, so virtually any area can be traveled to and examined. This of course means the game stays very entertaining, and it is impossible to get bogged down or stuck in any one particular location.

Puzzles in Golden Gate are challenging, but not overly so. One interesting aspect is that the designers decided to have the puzzles never reset. If you move out of a puzzle screen then return to it, you will find the puzzle as you left it. This actually serves to increase the difficulty level of the puzzles—and the enjoyment of them, really. There are some chestnuts here, such as magic square and sliders, but many also rely on gathered information, which makes note-taking a must. There is some inventory, but these items, for the most part, forward story progression and completion of the game rather than being parts of puzzles.

There are minimal ambient sounds, mostly things like creaking stairs or crying seagulls. It is actually a quiet, languid game, and this is really part of its charm. Music is pretty and unobtrusive, similar to the music in Pandora's Box or the Kyrandia series, mostly lilting, sometimes quietly ominous.

As for the San Francisco depicted in Golden Gate, despite the fact that it has the real SF as a foundation, there are no people on the streets or in the park, and anyone that knows the city at all will find this a little unnatural. Another interesting thing is the choices made as to which locations were included. Pacific Heights, the Cliff House and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park are here, while North Beach, the De Young Museum and the Haight are not. The Old Mint is used, but not the Tenderloin. Okay, expecting game designers to use the home of the porn-king Farrell brothers is probably way over the top, but you haven't seen everything 'til you've walked through the flashing lights, bizarre street people and club hawkers down there. It's a part of SF—just a little bit of the underbelly.

No, what the player gets is the nickel tour of what the uninitiated would like to see if they traveled the city, which is probably the best move the designers could have made.

As for drawbacks, the game is slowed down measurably by the fact that it is played directly from the disk, and each movement must be read from the disk. But then again, the whole game is built to have a serene, leisurely gameplay style, so this is not completely out of character.

Golden Gate is a solid, if simple, game that is mostly forgotten but certainly worth playing. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: IX Entertainment
Publisher: Panasonic Interactive Media
Release Date: 1997

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
486/66 MHz or higher (Pentium recommended)
16 MB memory
Windows 95
SVGA
2X or higher CD-ROM drive (4X recommended)
Sound card

Mac:
68040/50 MHz or higher (Power PC recommended)
16 MB memory
System 7.1 (OS 7.5 recommended)
256 or thousands of colors
2X ROM drive (4X recommended)

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